Everyone can tell you what’s wrong with Australia’s current approach to asylum seekers and refugees, but what’s a better alternative? A Just Cause has released a document that outlines a better way forward. It shows that the world faces a refugee crisis. 17 million people have fled unimaginable persecution in their homeland and been recognised as refugees, but the international community is failing to provide them with the protection they need.

Refugees have three options for a durable future: first, they wait until it is safe to return home and voluntarily do so; second, they integrate into the life of the country that hosts them; third, they resettle in another country. Yet there simply aren’t enough of these options being made available to refugees. Protracted conflicts make it unsafe for almost all refugees to return home; the handful of mostly poorer countries playing host to 8 in every 10 refugees are not in a position to offer integration into their national life; and between them, the nations that have resettlement programmes, such as Australia, each year offer resettlement to less than 1% of the world refugee population. As a result, most refugees are left living a dangerous shadow existence in countries where their basic human rights are ignored. Unable to go home, refused the opportunity to integrate into their host nation, and with miniscule odds of being offered resettlement, they are stuck. TWo-thirds have been living like this for an average of more than 20 years. Others grow so desperate they risk incredibly dangerous journeys to places they hope to find protection.

The central challenge of refugee policy therefore is not to combat people smugglers, for this is to attack the symptom of the problem. Rather the international community needs to tackle the root problem, which is the vast gulf between the demand for protection and its supply. Quite simple, we need to provide refugees with durable solutions in a timely fashion.

Australia should therefore adopt short term, medium term and long term policy objectives. In the long term the international community needs to share the burden of protection rather than leaving it to a handful of poorer countries. This would see the international community working harder for peace so that more refugees can return home and agreeing to share responsibility to integrate/resettle in a timely fashion those unable to return home. In the medium term Australia should work towards an agreement among the main refugee source, transit and destination countries in our region to ensure that asylum seekers in our part of the world have their claims quickly assessed, are treated decently while this process takes place, and are offered the opportunity to integrate or resettle. Each nation would need to do its fair share in achieving this.

In the short term Australia should end its “Stop the Boats” policy for it does not address the gap between demand for protection and its supply. Consequently iy does not prevent deaths at sea, but pushes people to make dangerous trips to other places in the world. In a supply constrained world Australia must accept that flows of asylum seekers to industrialised nations are a reality. A possible way forward is to reach an agreement with Indonesia (as the main country through which refugees transit on their way to Australia) to jointly process asylum seekers in Indonesia and share responsibility for settling them. Increasing our refugee intake to 30,000-35,000 would afford us opportunity to do this and to increase our intake of refugees from other parts of the world. Australia’s geographic isolation makes it unlikely that a floodgate will be opened, and by providing pathways to protection people will have no incentive to board a leaky boat.

The paper and a 1 page summary can be downloaded at http://ajustcause.com.au/bordered-by-love/

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